Modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris and begun in 1901, the Hà Nội Opera House opened in December, 1911. But for the purposes of this post, its history is not significant. Southwest has performed here in 2006 and 2010, both highlights of our Southeast Asian tours. The acoustics are jewel box superb.
But for this post about Hà Nội’s Street Food what’s important is the vantage point of my photo. Hope you’re hungry…
I am standing at one of many street food vendors in Hà Nội. The difference here is that you are right across the street from the Hà Nội Opera. This wall of vendors disappears after lunch. And they have the most amazing bun and tofu dishes imaginable. I’d recommend enlarging the photo on your computer. Take a look at the tofu, sausages and vegetables. Have you every squeezed sliced kumquat on your lunch?
Of course my blog is about new music and the changes I’ve seen in Hà Nội this fall. I am off the beaten path again, but I wanted to make you aware of a place close to the Việt Nam National Academy of Music. Our Ascending Dragon friends took us here and the place is called Nem, or Appetizers.
Musicians don’t talk about music in meetings.
Appetizers are all that’s served here, the small morsels you’d find on the street. The only difference with this restaurant is the appetizers are together. On the street you’d need to go from vendor to vendor to find each taste, so it’s worth finding this place off the beaten path.
We’re catching up after not seeing each other for a few years, hearing about their orchestra repertory and enjoying an advanced lesson in Vietnamese cuisine etiquette. We are also thrilled to learn that Nguyen My Huong, violin (as opposed to Le Thu Huong, flute!) is performing the Vietnamese premiere in December of Ton That Tiet’s latest chamber piece at the Alliance Francaise by the Opera House.
Generations are connecting…
But I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t show you a piece-de-resistance of Nem – a fried crab roll that is to die for…..
So let’s go back to the street. Wandering in the Old Quarter we wandered on to one of our favorite Hanoi treats, banh cuon. A small rolled rice noodle filled usually with pork and topped with fried shallots, it is never better than this street food marvel on Hang Ga Street.
I’ve promised that Quan An Ngôn would keep popping up in my posts. It certainly is time to return. As you might recall we were brought there by five different sets of friends, so the verdict is pretty clear.
We had been asked to work with the Song Hong Ensemble while in Hanoi. This energetic group is on their way. Jan worked them hard on the Shostakovich Piano Quintet, as they’d just returned from a tour to Japan but still wanted to work with her. They have a desire to build a strong new music repertory.
The thoughts and plots went on for two days. The group is made up of Pham Truong Son and Phan Thi To Trinh, violins, Do Huong Tra My, viola, Dao Tuyet Tring, cello and Pham Quynh Trang, piano. I’ve rarely talked with such a perceptive group of young players.
No better place but to head to Quan An Ngon again in the French Quarter!
To Trinh is from Da Nang and was able to order some specialties from her home town. But the Vietnamese are particular about how their local dishes should taste. It’s fascinating to observe there attention to detail. I’m beginning to think it’s the French who have the hangover….
Hanoi is one of the top destinations in the world for food. I did a lot of research on the internet before my fifth trip to the city. Most all of these haunts eluded my search (Ngon was known. Vietnamese has an avalanche of puns…) so I want to repeat….
Musicians know the best place for food in any city in the world!
We probably all regret not taking a few photos after a trip. One of mine was during a rainy morning walk in the Old Quarter. What I didn’t take I can still see. An old man on the street, sharpening his wife’s cleaver before the day’s cooking begins. Talk about practicing. My parents owned a restaurant, my uncle was a butcher. Sharpening your knives was also a daily experience for me. You know, I’ve cut myself only once in my life. The week my mother died. That’s when I knew her time was at hand.
The cooking that still goes on in the street here is worth UNESCO World Heritage Intangible Cultural Status. The mortar and pestle pounding, the cleaver sharpening, the meticulous trimming of pineapple, the 4 PM appearance of donut hole vendors for a pick-me up coffee treat, the attention to doing a dish perfectly for life. Cooking. Plain and simple. Even the French left it alone. And it’s still here, gritty, noisy, bloody, pungent, savory, sweet, and full of character.
In an often fake world of food, Hà Nội is real.
Best, best, best,